Your Light Must Shine Before Others, So That They May See The Good You Do And Praise Your Father In Heaven” (Mtt 5:14)

. . . Living out What you Believe and Profess

By Innocent Nwafor

1. Share Your Bread with the Hungary
The background to today’s first reading is simple. The Lord sends the prophet Isaiah to “cry out loud” like the voice of a trumpet, calling the attention of the people of Israel to the disparity between their outward show of religiosity and their unjust and uncaring attitude towards the weak and the poor (see Isaiah 58:1-2). The same concern of false religiosity was later raised by Jeremiah: “If you do not abuse the stranger, the orphan and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow false gods to your ruin, then I shall stay with you in this place” (Jer 7:6f). The people claim to be very religious, they fast and seek the face of God, yet they overlook the basic care of sharing their food with others, especially the less privileged in their midst.

This is very pertinent to our situation in Nigeria today where a palpable lack of care for others goes on alongside with an overwhelming external exhibition of religiosity. A spiritual journey to Christian maturity that enters its 5th week today, after Christmas celebration calls us for a spiritual assessment. The liturgical green colour still reminds us of the abundant blessings the Lord is freely sharing with us in nature. At the same time it, the colour, reminds us of the need to bear our own fruits, material and spiritual, and to share same with others.

2. From the Generosity of Nature
For some days now, I have been lucky to have plucked some guava fruits from the court-yard of the Father’s compound in Adazi Nnukwu from a tree I did not plant, but whose fruits I am enjoying. I have seen also that the orange fruits hanging down from its tree in the compound are getting ripe. I have also enjoyed the African apple (udala). Pawpaw, banana, cucumber and groundnuts are what we enjoy often before meals and at various casual occasions. These are various ways I have gotten a share from ‘the fruits of the earth’ and other peoples’ labour.

As I go through the readings of today, my attention gets focused on the implications of these fruits of the earth that I am enjoying vis a vis the fruits I need to bear and share with others. It occurred to me that nature is not only giving out its green leaves for its beauty. God has made these trees to bear these fruits so that as we enjoy them we are being reminded too of the necessity to share our material and spiritual fruits with others. That is the message of Isaiah: “share your bread with the hungry”. The challenging question is, how have we been sharing our bread with the hungry?

A Priest puts this question to a congregation in a different way. He visited me and we celebrated a Sunday Holy Mass together. He was marveled at the number of people that he saw in the church: elderly people, youths and children. I guess he must have compared with the number of people he used to see during Sunday Masses in Europe where he is on mission. During the homily, after thanking the congregation for coming in large numbers to Sunday Masses and weekdays, he asked them this question: “Kedu nke ka mma, obu ibia uka ka obu inwe mmuo eji eje uka”? That is to say, ‘what is better, to come to church regularly and in large numbers or to allow the Christian faith influence one’s daily life.’ This is not a literal translation. Rather, that is the way I understood the question he posed.

Certainly, this question does not call for an immediate answer. It was an invitation to reflect on the goal of our Christian life. In my own way, I liken Christian life to the work of a farmer who cultivates yam. Assuming the yam farm blossoms with intense green leaves over the bamboo stakes, what is called in Igbo (Ji ikwu ukwu), giving the farmer very big hope that the yam tubers will be extra ordinarily of large sizes, but at harvest time the yam tubers became of the size of table-tennis-balls, called ‘gbafulu chuba’. It would certainly be a terrible disappointment for the farmer? For his interest would not be merely to have a robust and green yam leaves but the yield of corresponding big yam tubers. It is the fruits that count.

3. So with Us in Nigeria today
In like manner, I believe that the prophet Isaiah is calling on us to do a thorough analysis of our spirituality. Anybody who has been following the recent happenings in the social media will know that a lot of people are no longer at ease with the apparent complacent body language of roughly 50 per cent Christians that populate this country. The question goes thus: what, apart from ‘talking’ and ‘praying’, are the bishops, priests and ‘super pastors’, Brothers, Sisters and the Christian lay faithful “doing” in the face of gruesome killings in our country today. What are we doing in the face of concrete and palpable signs of hunger and hardship in the country? In the hospitals, there are many who are discharged but they cannot go home because they cannot pay the hospital bill. There are many who are sick and confined to their homes or they move from one quack native doctor to the other because they do not have the finance to go hospital. On the road and streets and at various markets squares there are uncountable number of ‘so-called’ mentally disordered men and women who roam about, some picking scraps from dustbins to eat. A good number of them are frustrated out of normal life. What creative and systematic plans are the churches putting in place to give them befitting human life? Our streets and Cathedral compounds are filled with beggars. The number of beggars visiting the parish houses and offices are daily increasing. What organized way do we have in order to attend to the needs of these so many citizens. Can the JDPC not articulate a more robust approach or campaign to look into the plight of these people? Can the various Town and Progressive Unions in collaboration with the church not build befitting Homes for these people? I believe the time has come too to campaign for a befitting life for these people knocked out of normal and decent life by our unjust society.

In each of these weak and outcast of our society is a depiction of the man who was knocked down by robbers on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho Luke 10:25-35. The priest came and passed by the other side of the road. The Levite came and passed too by the other side of the road. It was a Samaritan, a foreigner, who came and took care of the man. I have always wondered which of the three person’s preaching the man would believe after his recovery. What will be his considerations in making his decision on whom to believe? Will he consider their level of understanding of the Bible, the sweetness of their preaching, their religious denomination or who took care of him when he fell into the cruel hands of the armed robbers? Your guess is as good as mine.

4. Then Shall your Light Break forth like the Dawn
Every Christian is reminded today in the gospel that: “You are the light of the world, a city set on a hilltop cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and covers it; instead they put it on a lampstand, where it gives light to everyone in the house” (Mt 5:14f). Before, and still till today, a lot of people are making effort to better the life of others. But I think there is too much concealment about the good that people are doing. I believe there is need to stand the many good works that are being done on ‘lamp stands’ where it can give light to others. Christians should have the courage to let others know about the good things they do so that others could follow suit. The people of today are searching for models of goodness. As a child, I used to hear about one very generous man from Nise. His name is Benson Ama. This name became at the time synonymous with generosity for the less privileged. As we grew up we discover that many people have begun to emulate him. That is how we come to know people like Sir Edward Eze (Mmili na ezolu ora), Sr Dunu and others. No doubt, it is unnecessary to exaggerate one’s act of generosity according to Matt 6:3 injunction of not letting the left hand know what the right is doing. With prudence one can let one’s generosity shine out in order to let others follow suit.

Gratitude needs to be shown to people who have established Organizations and institutions geared towards helping others in need. There are a good number of them in our country like Daughters of Mary Mother of Mercy, founded by Bishop Anthony Gogo Nwedo, or the work being done by the Missionaries of Charity, founded by Mother Theresa of Calcutta (1950). There are other well known ones in Europe like the famous ‘L’Arche’ (a French for ‘The Ark’) Community’ founded in 1964 by Jean Vanier, to take care of people with various disabilities. That was the outcome of Jean Vanier’s response after he became aware of the plight of thousands of people with disabilities. Today this Community is spread in about 38 countries all over the world and has over 10, 000 in-mates. There is a similar house called the ‘Cenacolo Community’ founded by the Italian Sr. Elvira Petrozzi on a hilltop of Saluzzo, Italy, on July 15, 1983, Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, to take care of drug addicts. It is said that Mother Elvira, after waiting and prayer, she received the keys of an abandoned house, and opened it to welcome and provide lodging for people who had been wandering in the streets, sad, and disillusioned by the false promises of the world. Many were addicted to drugs and disoriented.” (…)

It seems to me that the Christians are being challenged to show to the public what they are doing in terms of social welfare. The churches are being asked to show how they are sharing their bread with the hungry. Let their light break forth like the dawn.

5. And Your Healing shall spring up Speedily
Presently, our country is hurting. And the poor, the hungry, the abandoned, these are our collective wounds that we all carry. The rich man cannot think that he will go in and sleep when a hungry neighbor is crying for want of food. Our healing will spring up speedily when we have taken courage to address the needs, food and drink, housing, health, and other social amenities. This requires that all hands should be on deck. Our politicians should think of the poor when they decide on their monthly pays and allowances. It is the same market that both the rich and the poor go. Let there be consideration of other’s welfare in our politicking. We shall all be better for it and the healing of our land will spring up speedily.

6. Your Righteousness will go before you
It is only then that our righteousness will go before us. Only then our green Visa will begin to command respect among nations. At the moment there are still a lot to be done to reclaim our God-given dignity as a nation. We need to work hard to salvage our national image that has been terribly battered by our politicians, our leaders, and recently the Judiciary, called the hope of the common people, has also been compromised. Right now our righteousness is being terribly questioned.

7. And the Glory of the Lord will be your Rearguard
The injunction today is that “Your light must shine before others, so that they may see the good you do and praise your Father in heaven” (Mtt 5:14). I want to end today’s reflection with these quotes from Mother Theresa of Calcutta. And may they be our guiding light this week.

“Joy is a sign of generosity. When you are full of joy, you move faster and you want to go about doing good to everyone.”

Wishing you the joy of doing good to others, especially the weak and the poor.